With a new relationship comes new needs. I have found this after living with my partner for the past year.  She is very busy with work, school, volunteer commitments, her family and a very demanding dog.  I, enjoy the simpler things in life, and like to keep my commitments to a reasonable level.  This makes me the researcher whenever we are thinking of making a purchase, because I have the time to care a bit more than my partner (not that she doesn’t care). But it occurred to us that most people don’t have someone to do the research or are even aware that they might need to do research to make a purchase that meets their quality, environmental, or human or animal rights standards.

For instance. My partner needs a new winter coat, and thought one of those popular Goose parkas would be the best, warmest choice.  I did some research, and turns out ducks and geese endure some horrendous plucking to provide the down to keep us warm. But with any purchase, there is going to be an environmental or social cost, but what is a reasonable amount of taking when we need an item?

In regards to a new parka, there are a couple of options.  You can purchase a Goose or Duck feather-filled parka or a parka filled with synthetic (most likely made from petroleum) materials.  A simple Google search will yield many websites that show how Geese or Ducks are stripped of their feathers, while still alive because generally these birds are raised for foie gras, and those feathers are then chemically treated to prevent decomposition etc.  Synthetic filler materials are made from a lot of chemicals, or recycled materials. So which is better?  Tough decision.

We are usually in favour of the natural product, but as many know, natural can also be harmful or environmentally detrimental. Considerations need to be made for the life span of an item, if it lasts longer, but has a comparable environmental impact to something synthetic, it is a better buy.  There are options when looking for natural down filled jackets, sleeping bags, or comforters.  TreeHugger has a good piece on this. Down jackets are often of a high quality so you could find a good quality, gently used jacket at a thrift or second-hand store.   Look for down that was plucked after the goose or duck died (this would make it a bit more humane), some stores have made a pledge to only source down harvested this way (IKEA, Patagonia).  There is also nest harvested down, which is unfortunately extremely expensive.

A purchase we needed to make together was a new mattress.  My mattress was used to me star-fishing in the middle, not comfortable for two people. A mattress is a really big purchase, so most people do some research before spending $500-$2000+ for something they will hopefully have over 10 years. I was very reluctant to purchase a new mattress, knowing that most are made with petroleum based materials like polyurethane foam, polyester, and nylon.

There are a great many different types of mattresses available, but I wanted something more natural and without an intense amount of fire retardants.  Health Canada regulates stipulate how fire resistant a mattress needs to be with a cigarette test. Brominated flame retardants are the most often used, and they include PBDEs (polybrominated diphenyl ethers), a group of chemicals that are highly persistent and which bioaccumulate in the environment and in the food chain. With all the chemicals we are exposed to, this is potentially very dangerous given how much time is spent on mattresses, how close our bodies get to them, and how long it takes for mattresses to off-gas. You can get a mattress without any flame retardants but only with a doctor’s note.

There are many places to order an organic or more natural mattress from, a quick google search will prove that. I purchased my mattress in Winnipeg at Aviva Natural Health Store on St.James St. I’m not completely satisfying with my mattress as it does contain 40% polyurethane foam. However the other 60% is Talalay latex, which is supposed to be a more natural, healthy option.  The information on the mattress just named a Talalay latex blend, polyurethane foam was not mentioned at all, although it was not advertised as organic (there is an organic mattress that was about $1000 more-we paid $1800 with taxes), I felt the information could have been more complete.

We did purchase an organic wool topper, wool is a natural flame-retardant so look for wool when trying to avoid all those nasty chemicals. When the mattress arrived it did have an odor, which made me look into what I purchase further.  Turns out there is a “do not remove until delivered to consumer” tag, and it told me there is polyurethane foam.  Of course the mattress could not be returned since we ordered the wool topper, but the off-gasing seemed to dissipate within a day (even though it continues to off-gas for the rest of its life, and I still smell it when I lay down). I felt stupid because I thought I did my research, but it is difficult to get all the information, even for us at Green Action Centre. But I won’t be discouraged!

It can be a lot of work to make a well-informed purchase, but once we as consumers start asking questions and demanding environmentally sound, ethical products, manufacturers will start filling that demand.  Try researching a simple item you buy frequently like food or bathroom tissue paper. Then check out Greenpeace’s page about Green Washing, because being ‘green’ is trendy and unfortunately poorly regulated (there are no laws or requirements to claiming a product is natural or green) although there are governmental and independent certifying bodies that can help you make good choices. Look for USDA Organic or Canada Organic on food labels.  It is illegal to claim food is organic if it is not, all organic food will have a certification logo.

For paper products, look for the Forest Stewardship Council (FSC) logo, paper products are assessed based on various environmental, social and operational criteria.  FSC is governed by member groups who represent diverse economic, environmental and social interests. Sustainable Forestry Initiative is another certification body, but with one very important difference.  It is funded and managed by the forestry industry. For other certification logos, check out David Suzuki’s Queen of Green eco-label guide.